Friday, January 13, 2023

Russian Census Highlights Changing Meaning of Nationality among RF Population

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 10 – The most striking news from the results of the latest Russian census is that 16.6 million residents of the Russian Federation did not claim any nationality at all, up from less than a third of that number 11 years earlier and that the number and percentage of ethnic Russians declined.

But several other figures from the just-released census results suggest that residents of the Russian Federation are now defining nationality less as an ethnic category as it was in Soviet times and remains in Russian law than in a variety of ways, more RF residents declared their nationality to be non-ethnic or part of some larger ethnic or regional group.

The largest of these groupings includes those who when asked their nationality declared they were Rossiyane, the Russian term for civic rather than ethnic nationality. More than 1.1 million people chose that identity, something officials may welcome but that both Russian nationalists won’t  (

Russian nationalists view the Rossiyane category as an attack on Russian nationality in the usual sense; and non-Russians overwhelming view that term as a hybrid cover for a process undermining their own nationhood and leading to their amalgamation into a Russian ethnic nation whatever Moscow says.

Other changes under the nationality line of the census include the more than 54,000 residents of Daghestan who identified as Daghestanis rather than as members of one or more of that North Caucasus republic’s numerous nations, 18,000 RF residents who identified as Slavs, 681 as Caucasians, 694 as Bulgarians, 366 as Turks, and 169 as Finno-Ugrians.

These are identities the census processors are choosing to record and report. Others, like Circassian, a common identity of a people the Soviets and Russians have divided into more than half a dozen nations, aren’t being reported or highlighted yet, lest any growth in their number be taken as another attack on Moscow’s divide-and-rule nationality policy in the North Caucasus.

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